The Direct Energy Buzz for March 2014

Welcome to the Direct Energy Buzz for March 2014. This month, we’re bringing you developments in solar energy, Tesla, and wind energy. And Direct Energy plays a part in this news as well, since we announced earlier this week that we’ve signed our first commercial customer using solar power!


Texas Solar Power Hits A New Low Price

The City of Austin has inked a 25 year deal with SunEdison company to buy 150 Megawatts from two solar farms for just 5 cent/kWh. The city council approved the plan on March 20 which may eventually supplant Austin’s use of coal-fired generation. The peak output from the two farms would supply 14,000 Austin homes.



Sunrise on Next Gen Solar

Some of solar power’s challenges have been low energy conversion efficiency, the need to convert DC current to AC, and the overall high cost per watt. That’s been rapidly changing lately. First Solar recently announced that its new production line of cadmium telluride (CdTe) panels has achieved an energy efficiency 17.5%. Now, while that doesn’t sound very good, consider the incandescent light bulb. Like the incandescent light bulb, most of that output energy is heat. Physics sets the limitations in energy conversion for solar BUT solar panel efficiency has lots of room for improvement. In fact, it goes all the way up to 35% depending on the materials used, like CdTe, which First Solar believes they can push to 18.1% to 18.9% in 2017. SunPower’s X-Series for residential installations has already hit 21.5%.

Increasing the energy output means you need to use a more powerful inverter system. As it goes, First Solar and General Electric are partnering to build the next solar power farm using GE’s ProSolar 1500 DC Volt inverter/transformer system. This means larger and more powerful panel arrays can be connected to the grid for lower cost.

While CdTe is a great semiconductor, cadmium is highly toxic and carcinogenic. The good news is that cadmium forms an incredibly stable crystal lattice with telluride meaning that cadmium isn’t likely to go anywhere in the event of fire or breakage. Still, like anybody living near any power plant who are told it’s all perfectly safe, the folks living near the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One aren’t all together convinced.


Tesla Wants its Car Batteries to Power Up Texas and Beyond

Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors is considering Texas as the site for its $5 billion battery factory. Called “The Gigafctory”, Tesla is roping-in Panasonic to help build lithium ion batteries that would be used not only to power its projected line of $35,000 cars but also be used for home power storage. These are big capacity battery packs— on the order of 60 to 85 kWh. That’s about 2 days of energy for the average American home. While Texas would welcome the plant producing billions of batteries, the part of Elon Musk’s pitch about Texas Tesla owners selling power back to ERCOT would require changes to Texas law. Specifically to switching the market to a time-of- use system for consumers and allowing net metering.

At the same time, Musk is hoping to shape a deal with his cousin, Lyndon Rive of SolarCity to develop a lower cost residential/business battery system. What does all this synergy mean for your home’s energy? Goldman Sachs believes it will make residential solar power competitive with rising electric grid costs across the U.S sooner. In fact, by 2033, home solar price may hit 20¢/kWh and encourage consumers to leave the grid.



Offshore Wind Turbines could be a Drag on Hurricanes

A recent study in the 26 February 2014 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change finds that large wind turbine arrays “may diminish peak near-surface hurricane wind speeds by 25–41 m s−1 (56–92 mph) and storm surge by 6–79%.” A team of Stanford University researchers used computer modeling to look at the impact of hurricanes, like Sandy, Isaac, and Katrina, when they are face by large arrays of offshore wind turbines – thousands of them, actually.

  • 112,000 offshore wind turbines between Washington, DC and New York would have slowed Sandy’s winds by 130 kph (80 mph) and lowered the storm surge
  • Isaac would have been weakened by 78,000 wind turbines
  • Katrina would have been tamed by 500,000 turbines in the Gulf of Mexico

The point is you need a LOT of them offshore. Right now, there are ZERO offshore wind turbines anywhere in US coastal waters, and it seems even less likely there will be any erected very soon.

In fact, the New Jersey State Board of Public Utilities just killed the only offshore wind project yet to be considered by that agency. It was a small pilot program to build a 25-megawatt wind farm about three miles off Atlantic City, NJ. The committee said the project would be too costly to electric ratepayers, who would foot a big portion of the bill. Without the federal subsidies which expired in 2013, the cost to consumers in the  would soar to $2.63/kWh. And after this year’s bitter winter and high electric bills, there’s some understandable resistance. On the other hand, the huge offshore wind farms in Europe rely heavily on government subsidies.

Are there any industry news items that have piqued your interest recently? Share them in the comments and we might expand on the topic in next month’s edition of the Direct Energy Buzz!


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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